Who Moved My Cheese?

By Spencer Johnson


Welcome to the whimsical world of Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson 🧀✨. This charming book, nestled within the genre of business and motivational literature, serves as a metaphorical exploration of how people deal with change in their lives and careers. Written by Spencer Johnson, a renowned author celebrated for his ability to distill complex topics into simple, impactful stories, this book has become a beloved guide for those navigating the often tumultuous seas of change.

Spencer Johnson, M.D., was not only an author but also a respected thinker in the realms of management and personal development. His ability to weave compelling narratives that impart wisdom and practical advice has garnered him a global audience. Who Moved My Cheese?, published in 1998, stands out as one of his most influential works, continuing to inspire readers to adapt to change with grace and optimism.

Set against the backdrop of a maze, the story follows the adventures of four characters as they search for their “cheese” — a symbol for what we desire in life, whether it be a job, a relationship, or spiritual peace. The simplicity of the narrative belies its profound insights into human nature and resilience. Whether you’re facing a shift in your personal life or at work, Johnson’s tale is a timeless reminder that change is an inevitable, albeit conquerable, element of the human experience. Let’s dive into this enchanting world and discover what it has to teach us about navigating the mazes of our lives 🌟📘.

Plot Summary

Who Moved My Cheese? is a tale woven around the simple concept of change, told through the experiences of its four protagonists — Hem, Haw, Sniff, and Scurry. These characters live in a maze, which represents the environment humans live in, and they are in search of cheese, symbolizing the desires we chase in life, such as success, happiness, or love.

Exposition — The story begins by introducing the four characters: Sniff and Scurry, two mice with simple strategies and instincts, and Hem and Haw, two littlepeople with complex behaviors and emotions, all living in a maze. They all find a huge source of cheese at Cheese Station C and establish routines around consuming it.

Rising ActionOne day, the cheese at Cheese Station C disappears. Sniff and Scurry immediately accept the change and start searching for new cheese. Hem and Haw, however, react differently. Hem denies and resists the change, hoping the old cheese will come back. Haw is fearful of venturing into the maze but starts to understand that change is inevitable.

Climax — After much hesitation, Haw laughs at his fears and decides to venture into the maze to find new cheese, leaving Hem behind. He learns to overcome his fears and starts enjoying the search for new cheese, inscribing messages on the walls as lessons for himself and possibly Hem, should he decide to follow.

Falling Action — As Haw moves through the maze, he finds bits of cheese here and there, which encourages him to continue. His journey is filled with reflections on his past attitudes and a realization that change can lead to better things. He becomes more adaptable, learning from Sniff and Scurry’s simple but effective approach to change.

Resolution — Finally, Haw finds a new, even bigger source of cheese at Cheese Station N. It’s filled with all kinds of cheese, more than he had ever imagined. He also sees Sniff and Scurry there, who had arrived long before because they had moved on quickly after the old cheese disappeared. Haw realizes that changing and adapting is the key to finding new cheese. He hopes Hem will find his way by following the messages left on the walls, understanding that the cheese will keep moving and he must stay ready to change again.

Through this straightforward but profound narrative, Spencer Johnson illustrates that change is an inevitable part of life and that success lies in how we adapt to it.

Character Analysis

In Who Moved My Cheese?, the characters represent different approaches to dealing with change. Let’s dive into the personalities, motivations, and developments of each character.

  • Sniff — Sniff is one of the mice in the story, characterized by his keen ability to sniff out change early. This trait represents the foresight to see change coming and prepare for it ahead of time. Sniff’s approach to change is proactive, making him a symbol of those who anticipate and adapt to change quickly without overthinking the process.
  • Scurry — Scurry, the other mouse, represents the action-oriented approach to change. He is quick to act, running into the maze to find new cheese as soon as the old cheese is gone. Scurry’s behavior embodies the principle of taking immediate action in the face of change, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and swift response.
  • Hem — Hem is one of the littlepeople, and his name reflects his resistance to change (as in “to hem and haw”). He denies and resists change, hoping that his old cheese will return. Hem’s reluctance and fear symbolize those who resist change, preferring the comfort of old ways over the uncertainty of new opportunities.
  • Haw — Haw, the other littleperson, starts with a fear of change but learns to adapt as the story progresses. His journey represents the ability to learn from one’s experiences and eventually embrace change. Haw’s transformation underscores the message that while change is intimidating, it can lead to new opportunities and personal growth.

Character Analysis Summary

SniffProactive, foresightedTo anticipate change and act quicklyRemains consistent, symbolizing the benefit of anticipating change.
ScurryAction-oriented, adaptableTo quickly adapt to changeConsistently swift to act, representing the value of immediate action.
HemResistant, fearfulTo maintain the status quoShows the consequences of resisting change, providing a cautionary example.
HawInitially fearful, becomes insightfulTo overcome fears and embrace changeDemonstrates significant growth, learning to see the value in changing and adapting to new situations.

Through these characters, Spencer Johnson illustrates the varied responses people can have to change and the outcomes of those responses. While Sniff and Scurry adapt quickly and thrive, Hem struggles due to his resistance. Haw’s development from fear to acceptance and insight offers a hopeful message about the capacity for personal growth in the face of change.

Themes and Symbols

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson is rich with themes and symbols that resonate deeply with its readers, offering insights into the nature of change and how we respond to it. Let’s explore the major themes and symbols present in the book.

  • Change — The core theme of the book is change and how it is an inevitable part of life and work. The disappearance of the cheese in the maze symbolizes the unexpected and often uncontrollable changes that occur in our lives. Johnson’s narrative encourages embracing change rather than fearing or avoiding it.
  • Adaptability — Closely linked to the theme of change is the importance of adaptability. The characters’ varied responses to the missing cheese illustrate different levels of adaptability. Sniff and Scurry’s quick acceptance and action demonstrate the advantages of being adaptable, whereas Hem’s resistance serves as a cautionary tale against stagnation.
  • Fear — Fear of the unknown represents a significant barrier to handling change effectively. Haw’s journey highlights how fear can paralyze and prevent us from seeking new opportunities. Overcoming fear is depicted as a crucial step towards growth and finding new “cheese.”
  • Perseverance — The act of searching for new cheese, despite the uncertainties of the maze, symbolizes perseverance. Haw’s determination to find new cheese, even when faced with the unknown, underscores the value of persistence in achieving success and fulfillment.
  • Self-Reflection — Haw’s habit of writing on the walls represents self-reflection and the importance of learning from one’s experiences. These messages serve as reminders and lessons for both Haw and potentially Hem, emphasizing how self-awareness can guide us through change.


  • The Cheese — Symbolizes what we desire in life, such as happiness, success, or love. The presence and absence of cheese in the story reflect the transient nature of these desires and the need to pursue them actively.
  • The Maze — Represents the environment we navigate in our search for fulfillment, including the complexities and challenges we face in life and work. The maze’s ever-changing nature symbolizes the constant flux of our surroundings.
  • The Messages on the Wall — These are symbols of the lessons learned from experiencing and adapting to change. They represent the wisdom gained through the journey and the importance of sharing that knowledge with others.

Through these themes and symbols, Who Moved My Cheese? offers a profound look at the dynamics of change and the attitudes that can help us navigate it successfully. The book serves as a metaphorical guide on how to move beyond fear and embrace the changes that life throws our way, highlighting the endless possibilities that await when we dare to let go of the old cheese and seek out the new.

Style and Tone

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson stands out for its distinctive writing style and tone, which play a crucial role in conveying its messages about change, adaptability, and personal growth. Let’s delve into these aspects:

  • Simplicity — The narrative is marked by its straightforward and uncomplicated language. This simplicity makes the book accessible to a wide audience, ensuring its lessons are easily understood and applied. The direct storytelling approach helps readers quickly grasp the allegory’s essence without being bogged down by complex jargon or concepts.
  • Allegorical — The use of allegory is a defining feature of Johnson’s writing style. By depicting the characters’ quest for cheese within a maze, Johnson creates a powerful metaphor for the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in life. This allegorical approach allows readers to see their challenges and experiences reflected in the story, facilitating deeper personal connections to the themes discussed.
  • Motivational — The tone of the book is overwhelmingly positive and motivational. Through the characters’ journeys, especially Haw’s transformation, Johnson encourages readers to view change as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat. This optimistic outlook is intended to motivate individuals to take proactive steps towards adapting to change.
  • Reflective — The narrative prompts reflection, both in its characters and its readers. Haw’s habit of writing messages on the walls serves as a literal reflection of his thoughts and lessons learned, modeling a reflective practice for readers. This reflective tone invites readers to consider their attitudes towards change and how they can apply the book’s lessons in their lives.
  • Instructive — Despite its narrative format, the book also has an instructive tone, offering clear lessons and takeaways for dealing with change. These lessons are presented in a manner that feels like direct advice, making it easy for readers to identify actionable steps they can take in their personal and professional lives.

Through its unique combination of simplicity, allegory, motivation, reflection, and instruction, Who Moved My Cheese? effectively communicates its messages about embracing change and the benefits of adaptability. Johnson’s style and tone are integral to the book’s enduring popularity and its impact on readers seeking guidance in times of transition.

Literary Devices used in Who Moved My Cheese?

Who Moved My Cheese?, while straightforward in its narrative, employs various literary devices to enrich its storytelling and enhance its themes. Let’s explore the top 10 literary devices used in the book:

  1. Allegory — The entire narrative serves as an allegory for how people deal with change in their lives. The cheese represents what we chase after in life (be it success, love, security), and the maze symbolizes the complex and often challenging environment we navigate to achieve our desires.
  2. Metaphor — The cheese and maze are not only parts of the allegory but also serve as extended metaphors. The cheese, as a metaphor, represents our goals and desires, while the maze represents life’s journey, filled with twists, turns, and unexpected obstacles.
  3. Personification — The characters Hem and Haw, despite being ‘littlepeople’, exhibit very human characteristics, such as fear, reluctance, and eventually, hope and learning. This personification makes their experiences and reactions relatable to the reader.
  4. Symbolism — Various symbols are used throughout the book, such as the cheese (desires/goals), the maze (life’s journey), and the writings on the wall (lessons learned). These symbols deepen the narrative’s meaning and encourage readers to reflect on their interpretations.
  5. Irony — There’s an element of irony in how Hem and Haw, the more intelligent beings, initially fail to adapt to the loss of cheese, unlike Sniff and Scurry, the mice. This irony highlights the message that success in navigating change is not about intelligence but about the willingness to adapt.
  6. Foreshadowing — The early behaviors of Sniff and Scurry, as they regularly inspect the cheese and start looking for new cheese even before the old cheese is gone, foreshadow the book’s central theme: change is inevitable, and preparedness is key.
  7. Parable — The story is a parable, a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. As with allegories, the characters and situations are symbolic, teaching lessons about life and how to deal with change positively.
  8. Contrast — The contrasting characteristics and reactions of the four characters to change highlight the varied ways individuals confront challenges and adapt (or fail to adapt) to new circumstances.
  9. Repetition — Key messages and themes are reinforced through repetition, such as the idea that “The cheese keeps moving.” This repetition helps drill in the book’s lessons about the nature of change and the importance of adaptability.
  10. Anecdote — The story itself can be seen as an extended anecdote used to illustrate the broader principles of dealing with change and the importance of not becoming complacent.

These literary devices work together to weave a compelling narrative that transcends its simplicity, offering profound insights into the nature of change and how we can navigate it successfully.

Literary Device Examples

Let’s delve into examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. This detailed look will help to illustrate how these devices contribute to the depth and meaning of the book.


The entire narrativeThe story of the maze and the search for cheese serves as an allegory for life’s quest for happiness, success, and fulfillment. It reflects the challenges and changes we face in pursuit of our goals.


Cheese as goals/desiresThe cheese represents various goals or desires in life, such as career success, personal happiness, or wealth. Its depletion symbolizes the transient nature of these goals.


Hem and Haw’s reactions to changeTheir human-like responses to the disappearance of the cheese—denial, fear, frustration, and eventual acceptance—personify common human reactions to change and loss.


The mazeSymbolizes the complex journey of life, filled with obstacles and unknowns that one must navigate to find fulfillment and success.


Hem’s refusal to moveThe irony in Hem’s situation is that despite his intelligence and ability to think and analyze, he’s the one who struggles the most with adapting to change, showing that adaptability is not solely a matter of intellect.


Sniff and Scurry’s behaviorTheir consistent checking of the cheese supply and exploration of the maze foreshadows the central theme that change is inevitable and preparedness matters.


The story as a wholeIt functions as a parable, using a simple tale to impart valuable lessons about adapting to change and the dangers of complacency.


The behaviors of Hem and Haw versus Sniff and ScurryTheir differing reactions to the loss of cheese provide a stark contrast that highlights various approaches to handling change, emphasizing the benefit of adaptability.


“The cheese keeps moving.”This phrase is repeated to emphasize the inevitability of change in life, reinforcing the book’s main message about the importance of staying adaptable.


Haw’s journey in the mazeServes as an anecdote illustrating the broader lesson that fear and comfort can hold us back from finding new opportunities and happiness.

These examples showcase how Spencer Johnson skillfully uses literary devices to enrich Who Moved My Cheese?, making its simple story a powerful and enduring lesson on change, adaptability, and personal growth.

Who Moved My Cheese? – FAQs

Q: What is the main message of Who Moved My Cheese?
A: The main message of the book is that change is an inevitable part of life and work, and success largely depends on how quickly and effectively one can adapt to change. It encourages embracing change, moving past fears, and being proactive in seeking new opportunities.

Q: Can Who Moved My Cheese? be applied to personal life, or is it just for professional scenarios?
A: Yes, the lessons from Who Moved My Cheese? can be applied to both personal and professional life. The metaphor of searching for cheese in a maze can relate to any aspect of life where change occurs and adaptation is necessary for growth and happiness.

Q: Who are the four characters in the book, and what do they represent?
A: The four characters are Sniff and Scurry, two mice, and Hem and Haw, two ‘littlepeople.’ Sniff represents the ability to sniff out change early, Scurry the readiness to scurry into action, Hem the resistance to change, and Haw the ability to learn to adapt to change over time.

Q: How does the story suggest one should deal with change?
A: The story suggests that dealing with change effectively involves staying alert to changes, being prepared to act quickly, overcoming fears, learning from the experience, and enjoying the journey of finding new ‘cheese,’ or opportunities.

Q: Is there a sequel or any related books to Who Moved My Cheese?
A: Spencer Johnson also wrote a follow-up called “Out of the Maze,” which further explores the ideas about beliefs and how they can either enable or hinder our ability to adapt to change and find new cheese.

Q: How can teachers use Who Moved My Cheese? in the classroom?
A: Teachers can use the book to discuss themes of change, adaptability, and personal development. It can serve as a starting point for discussions about how students deal with changes in their lives and strategies for becoming more adaptable. Activities might include character analysis, exploring personal experiences with change, and applying the book’s lessons to hypothetical scenarios.

Q: What makes Who Moved My Cheese? a popular book for business and management?
A: Its simple yet profound message about the importance of adapting to change resonates with business professionals who constantly face changing market conditions, organizational structures, and career paths. The book provides a clear, memorable framework for navigating change in a business context, making it a valuable tool for managers and employees alike.


What does the cheese symbolize in the book?HappinessSuccessDesires or goalsAll of the above
Which character represents the ability to sniff out change early?HemHawSniffScurry
What does the maze represent?Life’s challengesA literal mazeThe pursuit of happinessA puzzle game
Who refuses to search for new cheese, hoping the old cheese will come back?SniffScurryHemHaw
What lesson does Haw learn from his journey?Never trust miceCheese is not importantChange can lead to new opportunitiesIt’s better to stay put
Which of the following is not a theme of the book?Fear of the unknownResistance to changeThe importance of teamworkAdapting to change
What writing style is predominantly used in the book?AllegoricalAutobiographicalSatiricalEpistolary
Which characters adapt to the change immediately?Hem and HawSniff and ScurryHem and ScurryHaw and Sniff
What is the main message of Who Moved My Cheese?Change is avoidableChange should be fearedAdaptability is key in facing changeCheese is a limited resource
Out of the Maze” is a sequel that explores:The importance of believing in yourselfHow to make more cheeseThe nature of the mazeNone of the above

This quiz is designed to test comprehension and deeper understanding of the themes, characters, and messages in Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from Who Moved My Cheese?:

“As Haw moved through the maze, he thought about his journey. ‘The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese,’ he wrote on the wall, hoping Hem might eventually read it. It was a lesson hard learned but worth it. He realized that change could lead to something better. Every time he wrote something on the wall, it was as if he was reinforcing the lesson for himself as much as he hoped to for Hem.”


  1. Metaphor – The “old cheese” and “new cheese” serve as metaphors for old ways or things that no longer serve us and new opportunities or beginnings, respectively.
  2. Personification – Haw’s actions of writing on the wall and hoping Hem might read it personify the characters, attributing them with human emotions and desires.
  3. Foreshadowing – Haw writing lessons on the wall foreshadows the potential for Hem to learn and grow if he chooses to follow Haw’s path.
  4. Symbolism – The wall writings symbolize the lessons learned from experiences and the importance of sharing knowledge.
  5. Anecdote – This passage serves as an anecdote within the larger narrative, illustrating a specific lesson Haw learns about change and adaptability.

This exercise encourages students to spot and understand the use of literary devices in conveying the book’s themes and messages.